“You Can Sit with Us”: Fostering a Climate of Inclusion
Naturally, as people, we all want to feel included. Unfortunately for most of us, we don’t always feel this way. As a dancer, I’ve found the dance world to be highly political and favoritism to be expected, somewhat mirroring what mainstream media and pop culture tells us (like the show Dance Moms!). This is why it has always been much more common for me to feel excluded rather than included throughout my years in dance, and why I was so nervous back in September when I joined a new studio.
I hadn’t danced in almost a year and I remember trying to make my bun perfect and double checking that there weren’t any runs in my tights. Sierra Nevada Ballet is the only professional ballet company in northern Nevada, representing some of the best talent in the entire state. Their status as a company made me nervous to even step foot in the building, but I was pleasantly surprised by my first week there. I immediately fell in love with the people and the atmosphere that encouraged so much growth and sense of community. After so many experiences of walking into a class and feeling like I was looked down upon, it was refreshing and inspiring to feel included among such incredible dancers. I wondered,
What did they do that was so different from other studios?
Did I do anything different to warrant their responses?
This is when I realized that inclusion or exclusion doesn’t happen on its own. Groups themselves are responsible for establishing and maintaining this type of culture. Psychologist Abraham Maslow described this in his theory of motivation as the need for Love and Belonging, which is most definitely a two way street. While we may all want to be included by our peers, we also have to put in the conscious effort to be involved.
This realization encouraged me to want to share my experience with Sierra Nevada Ballet and what I learned about fostering a climate of inclusion:
- A smile goes a long way. I could say so much about a simple smile, but ultimately I think ‘mirror neurons’ sum it up. These neurons are basically what allow us to experience empathy. If someone is sad then we feel sad, if someone is mad then we can get mad too, and if someone smiles then, more often than not, we will return that smile and feel closer because of it.
- Introduce newcomers to the whole group.
- The first company class I took with SNB my teacher, Ms. Rosine, took a moment at the beginning of class to introduce me. The other students in that class waved or smiled and then I took my place at the barre. This small action really helped me to feel comfortable joining the group.
- Learn everyone’s names.
- Names are so important and most people are very particular about their own, from spelling to pronunciation. Within my first week, I made sure that I could call everyone by their name. It makes people feel important!
- Acknowledge previous experience, but always offer help.
- I’ve noticed that some dancers will assume they are better than others. At SNB, I was immediately placed in the apprenticeship program even though some students work for years to get there. Ms. Rosine and the company acknowledged my prior dance experience which gave me the confidence to dance among the company members, but they were also always willing to help me. If someone saw that I looked lost or noticed that I wasn’t doing something correctly, they would offer tips and feedback.
- Treat all group members equally.
- In a ballet class, hierarchy exists but is productive if used effectively. When we go “across the floor” the company members go first, then apprentices (me), then trainees, and then students. This hierarchy allows less experienced dancers to model the more experienced ones. Even in this hierarchical setting, Ms. Rosine does not treat any of us differently than the next. She is just as strict, yet understanding, with each and every one of us.
- Provide encouragement and constructive feedback.
- Ms. Rosine is always giving technical corrections and feedback. She works with each one of us individually to understand our strengths and opportunities for growth. When she notices that we have improved, especially on something that she has given us corrections on, she tells us. Those compliments are not necessarily hard to come by, but she definitely doesn’t say them unless she means them! Not only does Ms. Rosine give positive constructive feedback, but the students in the class will as well. It doesn’t matter who it is or what they’ve done, but if the class notices an improvement we let them know by clapping. It is very flattering and absolutely makes me blush every time, but it also reminds me that I’ve done something well.
- Find ways to connect with others.
- There isn’t usually much talking during a ballet class, but I always stay for just a few minutes after class to pack up and catch up with other dancers. I ask questions, whether it be about class or otherwise, and my interest usually spurs a conversation. All it takes is one conversation to spark a great friendship!
All of these actions, big or small, contributed to the strong sense of community and belonging at Sierra Nevada Ballet. Now, I feel like I am part of a dance family where they love me when I’m at my best and lift me up when I’m at my worst. I am beyond grateful for the inspiring experience that I’ve had with this company and their inclusive environment makes dance something I always look forward to.
We can use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to understand underlying motivations of group members. Then, we can address those motivation needs so that everyone can contribute their greatest potential.
- Introduce Maslow’s Pyramid
- Physiological Needs – Basic needs vital to survival: food, water, shelter, sleep
- Safety Needs – Needs for safety and security: health, employment, social stability
- Social Needs – Needs for belonging, love, and affection: friendship, family, sense of connection
- Esteem Needs – Needs reflecting self-esteem, personal worth, accomplishment, respect of others, achievement
- Self-Actualization Needs – Highest level of motivation: morality, creativity, spontaneity, purpose, meaning, potential
- Reminder: One must move up the pyramid one level at a time, meeting the needs at each level before they can move on towards self-actualization.
- Determine where each member of your group is currently on the pyramid.
- Using the pyramid as a framework, what does each member of your team need in order to be more successful or effective in their position?
- What can you/your core team/their peers offer (think of your strengths/resources etc.) to help motivate them to reach their full potential (self-actualization)?
- Come up with a feasible plan to lift your team members up! By helping to address your group’s needs, you are able to bring them closer together and better motivate them to reach their goals!
*Meet the Author*
Lindsay is free-spirited but prepared. She is going to grad school in the fall for school psychology and loves working with youth. When she’s not studying or working you can often catch her getting tangled up in aerial silks, doing acro yoga, or dancing.